Lost in Translation has covered Godzilla before, with the 1998 and 2014 American adaptations and even the Hanna-Barbera animated series. What started as a warning about radiation and weapons of mass destruction has grown into a popular franchise, with Godzilla fighting more monsters while destroying Japanese and American cities.
While the original Gojira was born from the fears of nuclear war, as the franchise grew, later films presented Godzilla as the defender of Earth from threats against it, either other monsters or, since there’s more to the planet than just the dominant species, humanity itself. The draw is still Godzilla; the audience is there to see the daikaiju in all his glory. What Godzilla represents now is the nature rising up and wreaking havoc on humanity in retribution for environmental damage. That brings us to Toho Animation’s three-part series of movies – Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, and Godzilla: The Planet Eater. The three movies tell the story of how humanity was driven off-world thanks to the rise of giant monsters, the return to Earth, and the fight to reclaim the planet from Godzilla. However, not everything is as it seems.
The first movie, Planet of the Monsters, giant monsters appeared from the depth of the Earth and started destroying cities. Humanity tried to fight back, but Godzilla appeared. Nothing the nations of Earth threw at the monster worked, not even nuclear weapons. During the war against the monsters, two visitors arrived. The first were the Exif, who also had lost their world to a monster uprising. They offered their assistance towards the salvation of humanity. The other were the Bilasaludo, another people who lost their homeworld to monsters. The Bilasaludo offered their technology to try to rid the Earth of Godzilla, including building MechaGodzilla using nanometal.
Godzilla destroyed the installation where MechaGodzilla was being assembled. Humanity was left with no choice except to flee Earth, with the survivors gathering into a colony ship to search for a new home. After spending twenty years searching and finding nothing habitable and after a disaster that sees a landing ship explode during re-entry, the decision is made to make a warp-jump back to Earth to at least resupply. Thanks to relativity and the effect of time dilation at near light speed, the ship returns twenty thousand years later. Haruo Sakaki has spent time analysing fights against Godzilla and has a plan of attack that could kill the daikaiju.
Despite the loss of time, the surviving humans put together the team needed to destroy Godzilla. The assembled forces with gear, including high speed hover bikes, power suits, and mobile artillery, launch. Earth, though, has changed. Life has evolved to survive with Godzilla around. Leaves have become sharper and wildlife has grown heavy scales. One landing site suffers heavy casualties when flying lizards attack. The plan is revised, but is still a go. The goal is to drop Godzilla’s shield, generated by his dorsal fin, then inject him with EMP devices to force an overload.
There is heavy casualties, but the plan works. Godzilla explodes. The survivors of the assault celebrate. The celebration is cut short, though. Godzilla is still the defender of the Earth. Destruction is just a temporary set back. Godzilla returns, even larger and more powerful. He devestates the assault’s survivors.
/City on the Edge of Battle/ starts with the ship’s command staff arguing about staying to hear from survivors or going into a lunar orbit to get out of range of Godzilla’s heat ray. The compromise is forty-eight hours to hear from survivors, then leaving. On Earth, Haruo regains consciousness and discovers that there were survivors from the people left behind on Earth when it was evacuated. A young woman has treated his wounds. Haruo follows her to her home, an underground settlement, picking up other survivors from the assault along the way. The survivors, the Houtua, have a flourishing society despite a lack of technology. Other survivors have been taken in by the Houtua already, giving Haruo a small force to lead. Among the other survivors are the Exif Metphies, Haruo’s friend from on board the ship, and the Bilasaludo, Gala-Gu and Belu-Be.
The Bilasaludo discover that the weapons the Houtua use are made from a form of the nanometal used to create MechaGodzilla. Not being far from the installation, they lead the survivors to where it was. In its place, a large complex has formed completely from nanometal, dubbed MechaGodzilla City. Inside the complex, the survivors are able to contact the ship in orbit. A new plan is formed to try to destroy Godzilla. Using the nanometal, three power suits are upgraded, turning them into Vultures, capable of flight and withstanding a blow from Godzilla. Using the same assault plan as before, Godzilla is lured into a trap and is caught in place using more nanometal.
The problems start when the Bilasaludo allow the nanometal to fuse with them. They believe that they need to become more and less than human to defeat Godzilla. Obviously, they didn’t have a Friedrich Nietzsche in their history – “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird,” or, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” MechaGodzilla City starts absorbing anyone in it. The humans flee, but Haruo and power suit pilot Yuki Kaji aren’t so lucky. The nanometal in their Vultures starts to fuse with them. Haruo is able to fight it off but Yuki cannot. Torn between destroying Godzilla or potentially saving Yuki by destroying the core of MechaGodzilla City, he chooses Yuki.
Godzilla is able to free himself, heating the nanometal to beyond its melting point. He destroys the complex, something he had been searching for, then rests. The last hope for destroying Godzilla is in ruins.
The Planet Eater begins soon after the events of the previous movie. The Bilasaludo on board the ship in orbit take over the engineering section and threaten to cut off life support if they don’t hear from their brethren on Earth, unaware of what has happened. Meanwhile, the Exif on both the ship and Earth are beginning to convert the remains of humanity into followers of their religion. There is a problem there, though. The Balisaludo’s lack of a Nietzsche is nothing compared to the Exif’s lack of a HP Lovecraft. The Exif’s god is a monster from another dimension, King Ghidorah. He’s not coming to save humanity but to destroy it. The remaining Exif were spared when their homeworld was destroyed so that they may deliver other worlds to Ghidorah.
Ghidorah emerges from three singularities, none of which appear on the ship’s sensors. Thanks to the monster’s gravity bending and the different laws of physics in its home universe, time warps. with events happening after they became impossible. Ghidorah destroys the ship in orbit, then turns his attention to the biggest threat on the ground, Godzilla. The fight is one-sided; Ghidorah can bite Godzilla but the defender of Earth cannot even grab the invader.
In the spiritual realm, Haruo fights against Ghidorah and his priest, Metphies. He is shown scenes from earlier in the film, but from Metphies’ point of view. With the betrayal laid bare, Haruo sees how he was used. The fight is tough, but the young Houtua twin sisters, Maina and Miana, aide by calling to their goddess, who briefly appears in Haruo’s vision as a moth. Defeating the priest subjects Ghidorah to the local universe’s physics. Godzilla is now able to not just grab the invader’s heads but to also use his heat ray. The planet is saved.
The trilogy has some issues, mainly with the pacing in the second film. The story may have been better off as a seven- or eight-part limited series, but the goal was to have the movies shown in theatres first, then moved to Netflix. However, the series of films was made by Toho Animation. If anyone understands what the draw to a Godzilla film is, it’s Toho.
The story through the three films is Haruo’s. He provides the drive throughout the film. Godzilla, though, is the reason for that drive. Haruo is chasing his white whale. To finish Nietzsche’s quote, “Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein,” or, “And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” When Haruo realized the abyss was staring back, he blinked and put his need for revenge aside for the greater good of the survivors of humanity.
Godzilla is Haruo’s white whale and his abyss. The daikaiju is a force of nature unto himself, a destructive force that cannot be destroyed permanently. Godzilla is the defender of the Earth, but that still doesn’t mean humanity is included. Threats, such as environmental disaster and nuclear weapons testing, created Godzilla. Ongoing threats, like the nanometal from the remains of MechaGodzilla, kept Godzilla around over twenty thousand years. At three hundred metres tall, Godzilla is the dominant lifeform on Earth.
With the film trilogy being animated, the drawbacks of live action, such as budget and special effects, are avoided. Godzilla is the biggest thing on screen when he appears. His appearance resembles his other film appearances. The films give him a few new powers, but those are based on his size; a mighty destructive roar and a tail slash that both destroy human forces at a distance. The main new power is a shield, generated from his dorsal fins. When charging, the actinic light plays along his fins much like previous films. This shield is how Godzilla survives having nuclear weapons dropped on him.
King Ghidora has a huge change. He’s now an extra-dimensional threat and brings his own physics with him. At the same time, Ghidorah is still a threat to the Earth, still a danger to even Godzilla. Instead of being under the influence of aliens, the aliens – the Exif – are under his. Animation allowed Toho to show Ghidora as the King of Monsters.
Instead of a city, the stakes are humanity itself. Tokyo is in ruins for most of the series, long gone and forgotten on Earth. The monsters rose up as if nature went on the offensive to throw off humanity. If humans can’t protect the environment, the environment will develop an immune system, one with an atomic breath. Godzilla 2000 ends with the question, “Why does [Godzilla] always save us?” while Godzilla is taking a victory lap on top of Tokyo. With the animated trilogy, the Earth is saved, but humanity had to learn to live with nature, not compete against it.
The theme of the Godzilla franchise has always been about the dangers of destroying the planet, either through nuclear war or through environmental damage. The three animated movies are no different. This time around, thanks to the animated format, the utter devestation can be shown. Pacing may be an issue, but the three movies are still Godzilla.
Lost in Translation has analyzed the two American-made Godzilla movies, both the 1998 version and the 2014. The history of Godzilla and Gojira are expanded in those, but the short version is that title kaiju began as a message about the horrors of the atomic age, espeically the atomic bomb. As the franchise progressed, Godzilla became the defender of the Earth, though not necessarily of humanity has he rampages through Tokyo leaving massive collateral damage in his wake. The 2014 Hollywood version changed the message, from the dangers of the atomic era to the dangers of climate change.
However, the 1998 and 2014 versions were not the first American adaptations. Prior to them, the animation studio Hanna-Barbera licensed the character in 1978 from Toho to create the Godzilla cartoon. What better way to entertain young children on a Saturday morning than watching a giant monster rampaging through the cities of the world? Considering that local stations, particularly in the UHF band, had more control over their time slots than today and had more hours to fill with local programming, both weekend afternoons and late-night and overnight hours, the very same young children watching the Godzilla cartoon would be able to watch an older Godzilla movie later the same weekend.
The series followed the crew of the Calico, a research vessel travelling the world’s oceans. While Captain Carl Majors was in charge of the ship, Dr. Quinn Darien was the head of the unspecified research project. Quinn had two members of her team, Brock, her research assistant, and Pete Darien, her nephew. Rounding out the team is Godzooky, Godzilla’s young nephew. When the crew of the Calico is in a tight spot, they summon Godzilla himself.
A typical episode would have the Calico in a location by the ocean making a new discovery, usually related to the giant monster of the week. The crew investigates, with Pete and Godzooky often told to remain behind because of the danger. If they were told, eventually they disobey and follow. The giant monster is found and Godzilla is summoned. The first fight between titans is a draw as the newcomer’s abilities either force Godzilla to back down or allows it to run away. The team tracks the giant monster and summons Godzilla one more time for the final fight. The draw of the show, though, is the battle between giant monsters, and the cartoon does deliver.
While the crew of the Calico was created for the cartoon, Godzooky is based on an existing character in the Godzilla mythos – Minilla. First appearing in Son of Godzilla, Minilla, known as Minya in some dubs, is the son of Godzilla. Both Minilla and Godzooky share some traits, including blowing smoke rings instead of fire and being young giant monsters. Godzooky was in the cartoon to appeal to the kids; he is very much a lovable pet who gets into trouble but is too cute to be angry with for too long. He is also very much child-like in that he wants to help even if he isn’t able to be effective.
The animation of the rest of the cast is along the lines of Hanna-Barbera’s own Jonny Quest. Techniques developed with the various Scooby-Doo series can be seen, particularly as the crew runs as a group. Godzilla is very much in line with his cinematic appearances. However, one of the draws of the movies, the casual destruction of cities as Godzilla stomps through, was reduced or completely removed, thanks to Broadcast Standards and Practices.. BS&P had strict guidelines on what could and could not be shown, and things like breathing fire on people and crushing buildings and cars underfoot were against the guidelines. As a result, Godzilla tended to use laser beams from his eyes more this is atomic breath, which was turned into a flame breath.
While Toho licensed the character, they didn’t license Godzilla’s roar. The studio worked around that limitation by hiring Ted Cassidy, best known as Lurch on The Addams Family and Ruk on the Star Trek episode, “What Little Girls Are Made Of”, to give voice to Godzilla. Cassidy’s work, combined with the animation of the title character, gave weight to the monster, keeping the fierceness associated with Godzilla.
Given that the cartoon was meant for a younger Saturday morning audience, Hanna-Barbera succeeded in what they set out to do. Godzilla lasted two season, and ran until 1981 on NBC. While not the best adaptation it could have been, the studio’s limitations, imposed from within by format and target audience and from outside by Broadcast Standards and Practices, meant that the production was going to hit diminishing returns. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but the Godzilla cartoon did remember the key elements to the kaiju‘s fame.
The atomic bomb has been used just twice in war, both times on Japan. The destruction the bomb wrought led to nuclear escalation between the US and the USSR, and a permanent change in the Japanese psyche. Post-war atomic testing on uninhabited islands still had fallout. Even now, nuclear energy isn’t trusted fully. In science fiction, atomic radiation leads to mutations. Marvel Comics’ X-Men are specifically called the Children of the Atom. Spider-Man gained his powers from a irradiated arachnid. Going back further, though, leads to the grandfather of atomic changes.
Gojira first hit Japanese movie theatres in 1954 and featured a monster that had been reawakened by nuclear weapons testing. The monster symbolized the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, something Japan had experienced first hand. Although not the first kaiju*, Gojira became the example of what giant monsters, daikaiju are. The movie starts with ships being attacked at sea near Odo Island by an unknown vessel, one that disappears as quick as it appears. The investigators discover that the islanders used to sacrifice girls to a monster called Gojira to appease it. During a storm that wracks the island, more destruction occurs, far worse than accountable by the storm. This time, there is a witness who can identify the cause – Gojira!
An archaeologist discovers large radioactive footprints and a trilobite that is normally found in the depths of the sea. An alarm sounds, and the archaeologist, along with the villagers, run to the hills, only to meet Gojira himself, towering over the island. A short, desperate skirmish breaks out long enough for the villagers to get to safety. Gojira returns to the ocean.
In Tokyo, the findings are given over to a commission. Nuclear explosions are responsible for reawakening and freeing the daikaiju. A discussion about whether to reveal the monster’s existance or not later, the public is informed. The Japanese Self-Defense Force sends ships to drop depth charges. Instead of killing Gojira as planned, the charges merely attract his attention to the ships and Japan. Gojira attacks Tokyo, emerging from Tokyo Bay, leaving a trail of destruction not seen since the Allied bombing of the city. Emergency measures are put in place, including a fence of electrical towers that will give off a 50 000 volt shock when walked through and the evacuation of Tokyo. Gojira returns. The electric fence does little to slow the monster down; Gojira destroys the wires with his atomic breath. Tanks fire but can’t penetrate Gojira’s hide. Once again, Tokyo suffers under the rage of the daikaiju until he leaves in the morning.
However, Tokyo may have a chance at surviving. Daisuke Serizawa has developed the Oxygen Destroyer, a side effect of his research into cleaner energy. The Oxygen Destroyer does exactly what it says on the tin – it destroys oxygen atoms. Anything needing to breathe oxygen is left asphyxiating. Serizawa is well aware of the potential misuse of his invention, though, and is hesitant to use it. Once he sees the extent of Gojira’s destruction, he changes his mind. To be safe, he burns his notes on the Oxygen Destroyer so that they can’t be used to create more. Serizawa is taken by ship to the last known location of Gojira. Finding the monster, Serizawa activates the Oxygen Destroyer, then cuts his own oxygen cable. Both he and Gojira perish.
The implications of Gojira, that the monster is more an unstoppable act of nature caused by nuclear radiation, is woven through the movie. The military is helpless as Gojira rampages through Tokyo. The destruction is immense. Nuclear weapons testing led to Gojira’s reawakening, which in turn led to Tokyo’s destruction.
In 1956, the movie was retitled Godzilla: King of Monsters and brought over to North America. New scenes with Canadian actor Raymond Burr were added to reduce the amount of dubbing needed. Burr played an American reporter who was on the scene when Godzilla first attacked Tokyo, telling the story as a flashback. This Godzilla was then released in Japan in 1957 and was popular like the original.
Despite being an actor in a rubber suit, Godzilla moved like the giant monster he was supposed to be. Part of this came from the sheer mass of the original suit. The added verisimulitude helped win popularity, which led to Toho producing /Godzilla/ movies through to 2004. Along the way, other daikaiju either fought or teamed up with Godzilla, inluding King Kong, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Mechagodzilla. Godzilla also served as inspiration for other giant monsters, including Gorgo and Gamera. As mentioned, Godzilla wasn’t the first giant monster, but he was the most influential. Few other daikaiju had songs written about them. Over the years, Godzilla became less a danger and more the protector of Earth, defending the planet against would-be destroyers and conquerors, including humans.
In 1992, Tri-Star picked up the rights to Godzilla with an eye on making a trilogy. The first, Godzilla, was released in 1998. It starts much the same as the original, a fish canning ship is attacked by an unknown creature and is found washed ashore, this time in the Atlantic. The US sends the military to investigate, pulling in experts in biology and paleontology, including Nick Tatopoulos. Nick, played by Matthew Broderick, was pulled from his investigation of the effects of radiation on worms in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Meanwhile, Philippe Roaché, a French insurance investigator, is also looking into the attack on the canning ship, ostensibly for purposes of insurance payout. He tracks down a survivor of the attack, who is only able to say one word, “Gojira.”
Early appearances of Godzilla are brief; the most seen of the monster are the spikes along his back. It’s only when Godzilla arrives in New York City that the audience sees him fully. Instead of being an actor in a rubber suit, the new Godzilla is rendered with CGI. Jurassic Park, originally released in 1993, helped make great strides in rendering dinosaurs with CG, and the new Godzilla benefited. However, the new Godzilla was based on iguanas and lizards, creating a new look for the giant monster. Still, New York suffered the same fate Tokyo did in the original Gojira, with massive damage to streets and buildings. And, just like the original, the military was helpless to stop the monster.
As New York is evacuated to New Jersey, Mayor Ebert tries to stay on top of matters, more to help get re-elected than anything else. During the chaos, the military loses sight of Godzilla. As blame gets thrown about, the civilian specialists work out what happened just as an Army recon squad reports that one building they checked had no more floor. Godzilla went underground. Nick comes up with an idea to get the monster back above ground to give the Army another go at him – fish. A large pile of fish is dumped near Times Square and manhole covers removed to let Godzilla smell the bait. The plan works; Godzilla breaks through the street from underneath and goes after the fish, giving time for the squadron of Apache helicopters to move in and attack. The helicopters’ missiles are useless, missing Godzilla and destroying the Chrysler Building instead. The reason – the missiles carried are heat seekers and have nothing to lock on. Being cold-blooded, Godzilla is the same temperature as his surroundings. Switching to miniguns, the Apaches pursue Godzilla through the ruins of mid-town Manhattan. The tall buildings become a maze, and the pilots lose the monster. The monster, however, did not lose the helicopters, and prey becomes predator again. Hemmed in by the towers, the helicopter pilots aren’t able to pull away* from Godzilla and are made a snack. Godzilla disappears again.
Nick makes a few calculations and realizes that the amount of fish from the canning ship, from three fishing ships that disappeared, and from the pile he had the Army make was far more food than needed. He grabs a sample of Godzilla’s blood, then finds an open pharmacy where he buys every pregnancy test available. While in the pharmacy, he runs into an old girlfriend, one who had rejected his marriage proposal. He takes her back to his tent, doubling as a lab, catching up on old times along the way. Nick finds out that his ex works at a TV station, then finds out that Godzilla may very well be pregnant, either about to lay eggs or has just laid them. The biologist runs off to warn the Army of his discovery and to perform proper tests to confirm his results.
With Nick gone, his ex, Audrey, played by Maria Pitillo, takes a tape showing the path Godzilla has taken, including footage of the survivor saying, “Gojira,” to her station. The tape is immediately placed on the air, right as Nick is trying to explain the pregnancy. Nick is kicked off the investigation. As he leaves, he meets Philippe. Nick explains the problem and gets Philippe, played by Jean Reno, on his side. Turns out, Philippe isn’t an insurance investigator; he works for the Direction génèral de la sécurité extérieure, or the French Secret Service. Philippe has been tracking the destruction from French Guyana to New York with an eye on stopping the monster. Nick, Philippe, and Philippe’s small team head into New York to look for the eggs.
Back in New Jersey, the collective armed forces of the US come up with a new plan to kill Godzilla. Once again luring him out, the Air Force directs Godzilla towards the ocean, where two submarines wait. Torpedoes are fired, but Godzilla is not only able to out-swim them, he lures them into one of the subs, destroying it. A second brace of torpedoes is fired and this time, Godzilla is hit. Mayor Ebert hears the news and starts insisting on having the evacuees returned to their homes in Manhattan. Colonel Hicks, played by Kevin Dunn, wants to confirm the death of Godzilla.
Back on the island, Nick and the French spies discover Godzilla’s nest. All of seats in the stands of Madison Square Garden have an egg, each one on the verge of hatching. As the Godzilla-lings emerge, hungry, they go after the fish and anything that smells like fish, including Nick and the French. The group makes the only rational decision possible – to run, blocking the doors to the arena. However, they’re still stuck inside the building. Fortunately, Audrey and her cameraman, Animal, were following him and know where the broadcast room is. Philippe, the sole French survivor of his team, assists in unlocking the door to the broadcast room. Audrey forces a break into the TV station’s live feed, letting the Army know where the offspring are. Nick joins her and explains the problem; Godzilla’s offspring are asexual, born pregnant, and are hungry; basically, they’re less fluffy tribbles.
Colonel Hicks calls for an air strike, giving the survivors inside Madison Square Garden six minutes to escape. It’s close, but they do get out. The baby Godzillas are derstroyed, but Godzilla returns. During the chase, where the heroes have borrowed a taxi to try to outrun a monster that can hit 80mph, Nick gets a message through to Colonel Hicks about Godzilla. A last ditch plan is made; draw out the monster to a bridge so that the Air Force can use missiles without buildings being locked on instead. The first missile strike staggers the monster; the second kills it.
The first half of the movie does a good job recreating the events of the original Gojira. The problem begins when the tone of the movie switches from “giant monster” to “action”. The original Godzilla took extreme efforts to stop; the subsequent films either have Godzilla as an act of nature, impossible to stop, or a protector, one who inflicts a lot of collateral damage. The design of the new Godzilla is closer to Repitilicus and The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, with a touch of The Giant Gila Monster. Toho, the company that created the Godzilla franchise, has renamed the monster in the movie “Zilla”, but hasn’t completely disavowed the film.
The scene involving Zilla chasing the Apache helicopters had an odd special effects failure. Nothing wrong with Zilla’s CG. New York just looked like it was a model, as did the helicopters. Given the nature of the movie, was it an error or was it deliberate, a callback to the use of a model Tokyo and model military vehicles in Gojira? Given that the rest of the movie didn’t show any problems, the choice seems deliberate.
Godzilla has issues as an adaptation, as pointed out above. The issues, though, do really start after Zilla reaches Manhattan. Until then, it does feel like a proper adaptation of Gojira.
* Apparently, the pilots forgot that they could go in three dimensions, specifically up. The Apache has a service ceiling of about 21 000 feet, much higher than even the tallest building in New York City.